It’s nearly here.
Are you ready?
I was pleased and honored to be asked to write an article for the National Novel Writing Month about my experiences as an international educator taking students through NaNoWriMo. Here is an excerpt from that article, with the link to the whole article at the bottom of the page.
Young Writer Chronicles: Students Around the World Discover a Love for Writing
by Nate Fleming
I fell into NaNoWriMo backwards, through Script Frenzy, a program sponsored by the nonprofit behind NaNo from 2007 to 2012. In Script Frenzy, a writer would write the first draft of a screenplay over the month of April. At that time, I had aspirations to be a screenwriter, even going so far as to take a screenwriting course in Hollywood over the summer of 2007 to help me down this path.
My biggest obstacle to a screenwriting career was geography. That summer I’d come to Hollywood from my wife’s home country of Kazakhstan, where I was teaching in an international school. Central Asia is not exactly the best place for a writer to live if he wants to break into Hollywood, is it? So, on the advice of a screenwriter friend, I turned to NaNoWriMo. If I couldn’t be in Hollywood to sell my screenplay idea, perhaps I could write a novel, and that novel could sell itself! In 2008, I decided to set aside November to work on making my screenplay into a novel.
Although I didn’t finish the novel that year, I enjoyed NaNoWriMo so much that in 2009, I decided to try and see if I could fit NaNoWriMo’s Young Writer’s Program into my international school’s curriculum. That year, with the approval of my administration, I piloted taking a valiant class of fifth graders through the month of writing, and it was maddening, exhilarating, insane, and immensely rewarding.
My eyes were opened as I saw students who had previously struggled to write a paragraph effortlessly filling pages and pages of a first draft. It also unlocked writing in other classes across the curriculum, and writing was coming easier for these students in history, science, and literature classes. It was revolutionary! The doors had been opened, and my students suddenly believed that they could write! It was almost magical!
They made it to the ark, but the danger has not passed.
Someone on board the ark is not what they seem, and Thimblerig discovers that there are plans afoot to steal the Seed of Asarata, the key to life after the flood. Now, to save the seed and the future, he and his company of animals will have to steal it first, right out from under the noses of Noah, the humans, and the wild dogs who protect it.
Thimblerig’s Ark 2: The Ark Heist
For a preview of chapter 1, read here.
“C’mon Bunco, get me out of here!”
Soapy, the copper-furred orangutan, held onto the bamboo bars of his cage and watched hopelessly at the pygmy elephant standing outside pulled futilely at the twine tied around the bars with her trunk. The two were founding members of Thimblerig’s company of animals, and two of the other con artists who had made it onboard the ark after encountering the unicorn.
“I’m working on it, Soapy!” The pygmy elephant grunted. “You’re supposed to be the pickpocket. Can’t you do anything?”
“It’s tied too tight!” Soapy slapped the bars and flopped down on the floor of the cage. “This is so wrong! I didn’t do anything!”
A flurry of white feathers flew past the pen, circled above, and landed on the top.
“Morning, all,” Shi Lau said. The white duck, also a member of Thimblerig’s company of animals, moved aside so that a midnight-black raven could land beside him, and he almost tumbled off as the room shifted, a regular occurrence as the enormous ark was being continually tossed around by the massive storm outside like a toy boat in a puddle.
“Morning, Shi Lau,” Big Bunco said, sitting down and wiping her brow with her trunk. “Who’s your friend?”
“This is Yonah,” Shi Lau answered, turning to the raven. “He came for some figs. Yonah, say hello to the mammals.”
“Hello, mammals,” the raven squawked, waving a wing.
“What’s the word?” Shi Lau asked. “Soapy still complaining?”
“Complaining? I’m standing up for my rights!” Soapy countered. “I don’t deserve this!”
The duck poked his head through the bars and laughed. “Quit your griping, Soapy! You got caught in the bird section and you lost your privileges. Don’t you know actions have consequences?”
“Oh, shut your bill, Shi Lau!” Soapy snapped back at the duck, taking a swipe at the billed face, but the duck yanked his head back out before he could be hit.
“Hey, don’t be angry at me,” Shi Lau said. “Be angry at the doves. They ratted you out to Kid Duffy.”
“Don’t remind me,” Soapy said. “Dirty fink wild dog.”
“As if they didn’t mess things up enough in the forest,” Shi Lau said disgustingly, hopping off the pen and sailing down to the ark floor beside Big Bunco. “Lousy wild dogs.”
Before the flood, the wild dogs had been the undisputed leaders of the forest, but they had been anything but benevolent. Ruling over the other animals with fear and intimidation, they had kept everyone firmly under their paws. When the flood came and washed everything away, everyone had expected that life would be different, but they were still being ruled by Kid Duffy, the only surviving male wild dog.
It seemed like nothing had changed.
“I was just trying to make a trade!” Soapy shot back.
“Yeah, Duffy’s not big on black markets,” Shi Lau answered. “He likes things organized.”
“At least he let you be down here with us,” Big Bunco said cheerfully. “He could have stuck you back up with the rest of the apes.”
“Who would he get to carry me up there? The doves?” Soapy grumbled. “And since when are you such an optimist?”
“What’s wrong with being optimistic?” Big Bunco said. “Things could be a lot worse, you know!”
“How could it be worse?” Soapy asked, slapping the bars right behind Big Bunco’s head. “I’m stuck in a cage!”
“For starters, you could be stuck outside the ark!” Bunco said, standing up and facing the ape. “I don’t remember you being that great a swimmer!”
As if to underline her statement, the storm made the ark shift again, throwing everyone out of balance. Ignoring the sensation, the two friends glared at each other through the bars, the tension was as thick as the heavy rain constantly falling outside.
“So where’s Sheila?” Shi Lau finally asked, referring to the ever-idealistic kangaroo who was usually around. “I’m surprised she’s not here making you feel even worse.”
“Oh she was here, alright,” Soapy said. He flopped back down again, an orange-fur heap on a bed of yellow straw. “She told me not to be upset, but to…”
“Trust the unicorn!” they all said at once.
“Tabitha and Mullins took her to check on Elbridge,” Big Bunco said, returning her attention to the stubborn knot of twine that kept Soapy encaged. “But I think they were just trying to give Soapy some relief.”
“At least somebody cares…” Soapy complained.
“Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time,” a familiar voice said, and they all turned to see Thimblerig step out of a shadowy recess in the wall.
“Ha, ha.” Soapy replied, brightening up. “You better have something to make me feel better.”
“Yeah, where are the figs?” Shi Lau asked, flapping down to the floor beside Thimblerig, trying to poke his bill into the pouch slung over Thimblerig’s shoulder. “We’re getting tired of the grub they keep giving us up in the aviary.” The duck pulled back suddenly, an unpleasant, wrinkled look on his face. “What’s that smell!”
“It’s nothing!” Thimblerig said, pushing the duck away. He plopped down, his back against Soapy’s cage, pulled the empty bag over his head, and tossed it to the floor. “I struck out.”
“Again?” Shi Lau squawked. “I thought you said you could take those reptiles for a bagful!”
“I could, and I still can,” Thimblerig muttered, in no mood to be grilled on his failed con.
“If the figs on Asarata were coulda’s, then all the forest would go hungry,” Shi Lau replied, shaking his head and looking back up at the raven. “Sorry, Yonah. No figs.”
“No worries,” The raven answered, obviously disappointed, but also relieved that he didn’t have to stick around. “I’m going to take off. Don’t want to end up in a cage! See you later, mammals!”
Thimblerig watched the raven flap away, and then turned to the duck.
“Bringing strangers down here for figs? Seriously?” he asked.
“What?” Shi Lau said. “He’s a good egg!”
Everyone groaned, and Thimblerig sat back against the cage, pulled a piece of straw from the floor and started sucking on it.
Over the course of their journey to the ark, the duck had been a constant thorn in Thimblerig’s paw, complaining and doubting him every step of the way. Of course, he’d been right that Thimblerig was a no good con-artist, and the fact that he’d figured him out was probably what bothered Thimblerig the most.
He had been a con. One of the best in the forest, no doubt, and from the start he had intended to take the little company of animals for every fig he could get his paws on, but Thimblerig’s attitude towards them – including the duck – had changed.
The unicorn had seen to that.
“Maybe the raven’s fine, but I think we’re best off just sticking with each other,” Thimblerig said. “Better the wild dog you know then the one that you don’t.”
“Speaking of wild dogs, Thimblerig, can you talk to Kid Duffy? Talk him into springing me?” Soapy’s doleful eyes peered through the bamboo cage. “You were a leader, so maybe he’d listen to you.”
“He’s still a wild dog,” Thimblerig huffed. “He won’t listen to anyone.”
“Except the humans,” Big Bunco said.
At the naming of the humans, everyone grew quiet and nervous, as if by mentioning them one would appear.
They walked on two legs, had little fur of their own, and were incapable of communication beyond grunts and making unintelligible sounds. Yet, it seemed that they were the ones who had built the ark, and they were undoubtedly the ones who were in charge.
“Forget the humans, and forget Duffy, we don’t need them,” Thimblerig finally said, standing. “We don’t need anyone.”
“Where you going?” Big Bunco asked as Thimblerig turned to go.
“I have no idea,” Thimblerig said, his voice weary. “So I guess I’ll go lie down.”
The other animals watched with concern as Thimblerig trudged down the big animal-filled room heading towards his own little pen.
Big Bunco found Thimblerig laying on the straw in small pen, staring up at the glowing firegems dotting the rough wooden rafters above. She had to hold onto the wooden slats of the pen with her trunk to keep from being knocked down as the ark rode the massive waves outside, but the groundhog didn’t seem to be bothered it in the least.
“A fig for your thoughts,” she said, sitting down beside him, glad to be lower to the floor where she was less prone to nausea.
“It didn’t bother me, Bunc,” he said quietly, shaking his head. “It hurt my pride a bit, but not really.”
“What didn’t bother you?” she probed gently.
“Blowing the game down in the reptile room,” he said, shifting on his bed of hay. “Can you believe it? I blew a game with an easy mark, and it didn’t bother me.”
“You seemed bothered when you came back up,” she said.
“Yeah, but it wasn’t about that.” Thimblerig sat up, resting his weight on one arm while he looked at his friend. “Ever since what happened out there, nothing’s been the same. My priorities are all out of whack. I’m not the same since before… him.”
Big Bunco nodded. She’d been feeling the same way. Before the flood she’d been content with her comfortable life as a grifter. But her interaction with the believers and her encounter with the unicorn on the road to the ark had her questioning everything. Her priorities, her hopes, her plans – none of those things seemed to matter any more.
“I’m thinking about leaving it all behind,” Thimblerig said, immediately getting Big Bunco’s attention again. He lay back down on the hay and resumed his staring at the ceiling. “The whole racket. I think I’m done.”
“What do you mean?” she asked. “Done with what?
“Being a con,” he answered. “The whole bit.”
“You’re going straight?” she asked, unable to believe what she was hearing.
“Yeah, I think I am,” he replied, his voice getting stronger. “I just have this feeling that it’s not supposed to be my life anymore, that Tannier Isa wants me to do something different, but I’m just not sure what.”
Big Bunco felt like she’d just been knocked in the head with an oversized tree trunk. Thimblerig the groundhog, going straight? Was that even possible? She wanted to laugh, to tell him that animals like them couldn’t just change, no more than a zebra making the switch from stripes to spots.
But she couldn’t, because as much as she might deny it, she’d felt it in herself.
She didn’t know if any of them had really changed, or if it was just being trapped on a giant hollowed-out tree trunk in the middle of a world-destroying flood, but she had a strong urge to avoid the topic. She needed to get away.
“That’s great, ‘rig, really,” Big Bunco said, standing, trying to keep her voice from shaking. The ark pitched from the stern, nearly knocking her back down, but Thimblerig jumped up to steady her. “Will I ever get used to being on the water?” she laughed, feeling shaky in more ways than one.
“We won’t be here forever,” he answered. “The unicorn has a new life waiting for us on the other side of the storm. Trust me.”
For a moment, Big Bunco felt swept up in the fervency of Thimblerig’s words. Could it be true? She realized with a mixture of horror and amazement that she actually did trust him, and the truth of that trust gutted her. After all, the first rule of being a con was: trust no one.
“I’ll see you later, ‘rig,” she said, breaking from him and moving towards the opening of his pen. “Got to go help Soapy break out of his cage.”
“Hey, Bunco?” Thimblerig stopped her. “I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t say anything to the others. Not yet, at least.”
“Sure, ‘rig, whatever you say,” she replied. He smiled and gave her a quick wave, and then settled back down onto the hay.
She shook her head as she wandered away from the groundhog and back towards her friends. She had some thinking of her own to do.
Look for another excerpt in the coming weeks.
Thimblerig’s Ark 2: The Ark Heist will be released on May 1, 2015.
Want to read Thimblerig’s Ark before the sequel is released? Get your copy by clicking on the cover below!
“Why did I ever decide to do this?” you mutter under your breath. “This month was destined to end in failure!”
The cursor keeps on blinking.
It’s that sentence. The Worst Sentence Ever Written. The sentence you’ve been monkeying around with for the past hour. You need to change it, but taking the time to change won’t help you reach your goal, and you’re already far behind in your daily word-count.
Your story is going nowhere. The characters are all one dimensional caricatures. The plot’s a dud, and the themes are non-existent, and…
…why did you think you could ever write a novel in the first place?
You slam your laptop shut and cry out in misery, “The mountain’s too tall, the forces arrayed against me too strong, and all hope is lost!”
This sounds familiar, doesn’t it? You’ve seen this before, somewhere…
Harry Potter, trapped in the besieged halls of Hogwarts, surrounded by the dark forces of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, desperate to figure out the location of the final Horcrux…
Lucy and Susan, holding onto one another in the bitter pre-dawn coldness, crying over the dead body of the great lion, knowing that all of their hopes died with him…
And then, it hits you. This is your dark night of the soul.
NaNoWriMo is your hero’s journey, you are the hero, and this is your point of decision. Do you turn back in defeat, or do you press ahead?
But it’s not just that. You’re also the writer, which means that this is your story.
You control the valiant champions fighting for good and the shadowy forces of evil. One side will win or lose at your beck and call.
This is your story.
It doesn’t matter if it makes sense, if your dialogue is believable, or even if it is well-written. What matters is that you finish.
And Hero, you are almost there.
With that knowledge, you are free to re-open your laptop and write, because this is your story.
And you are the only one who can tell it.
Thimblerig’s Ark 2: The Ark Heist, is being written this month during NaNoWriMo, and will be published in Spring 2016.